Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

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This advice doesn’t apply to you

Hey, you. Yeah, you—the one reading this. The one that says ignorant things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” “I’m busier than you,” or “I only require 3-4 hours of sleep.”

This research by Harvard obviously doesn’t apply to you, because you’re the exception in life. You’re superhuman.

For the rest of us, the study is a convincing reminder of mortality. Not only convincing, but alarming.

Turns out, sleep deprived individuals perform just about as bad (or worse) than someone intoxicated by alcohol, the research found. That goes for mental focus and job performance as much as motor skills.

Not convinced? Some years ago, I was required to attend traffic school for lightly speeding in a residential zone. I figured I’d walk into the class, listen to a boring lecture, then return to my life and light-speeding ways unfazed. Until I heard the sad, sad story of an otherwise innocent sleep-deprived college student mowing over a family of five, killing the mother and two children, while maiming the survivors. The student got life in prison.

Heavy stuff. But also an extreme example. In most cases, work-a-holics are unaware of their incompetence and spinning wheels. The great Henry Ford even studied this. Before the word “analytics” was cool, Ford decided to identify the ideal number of hours his workers should undertake to deliver maximum output. What he discovered was stunning.

By overworking his employees, Ford discovered he could get a 20% boost in productivity, but only for a two week period of “crunch” or “overtime.” After two weeks, worker productivity diminished to as low as 50% of normal.

After extensive testing, Ford found the optimal number to be between 35 and 40 hours a week. (As an aside, the study also found that this wasn’t 35–40 hours of intense focus, but rather an acceptable level of output. Which explains why many nine-to-fivers spend so much time “water cooling” or surfing YouTube during the work day.)

Fast forward to today, and you’ll find people working more, at all hours of the day, for less money, at the expense of personal time. The one thing that most often pays the price, before even nutrition and exercise, is sleep.

“For many people, getting sufficient sleep is increasingly under assault,” writes Julia Kirby for Harvard Business Review. “In the three-legged stool of good health, nutrition and exercise are constantly discussed, while sleep has so far come up short.”

Ironically, sleeping eight hours a night is easier than exercising regularly and preparing healthy meals. So it’s puzzling to Kirby and others that sleep isn’t being billed as the low-hanging fruit of good health.

Especially those that already enjoy eight hours of shut-eye per night. Since quitting the rat race four years ago and succumbing to a full night’s sleep, I can vouch for the study’s findings. I’m more prolific at work than I was before (even though I work significantly fewer hours), and most importantly, I feel a lot better. Because like the Harvard research found, I don’t fumble around like a drunk all day, nor do I endure the “hangover” of a work-a-holic’s life.

But again, you’re probably different. This advice doesn’t apply to you. Don’t let science get in the way of your superior, busy, and more important life.

We dregs of society will just be over here, well-rested and fully operational. But again, not as important as you. Carry on.

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